Sunday, July 30, 2006

Let Your People Go

According to an article in the Sunday New York Times, Redrawing the College Map, New York, California, and Pennsylvania (in that order) attract the most new college students from other states. Pennsylvania's neighbor, Ohio, is a net-exporter of college students. New Jersey is another loser in the brain drain game. That state loses more students than Pennsylvania gains.

Georgia bends over backwards to retain its graduating high school seniors, but that's bad policy. As the article points out, higher education in Europe takes a similar approach, effectively closing off their universities to the rest of the world. Once again, attempts to keep people from leaving a region are misguided.

Plenty of brain capital immigrates to Pittsburgh. This migration flow is critical to the economic health of the region, but how do you best exploit it? Do you induce college graduates to stay? At the very least, you mine the ideas while the students are around learning. What this entails is a strong relationship between the universities and local business. I suspect that the connection between CMU/Pitt and Pittsburgh is tenuous, but I don't know that for a fact.

What I imagine is local kingmakers viewing University of Pittsburgh for Pittsburghers. These are the same people trying desperately to keep the natives from leaving. Any such campaign is doomed before it starts.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Regional Boundaries

After reading Chris Briem's guest post on Pittsblog, I've got region on the brain. When we think of a region, we usually use political boundaries to delimit that space. Typically, the Pittsburgh region is defined as 10 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. That may make sense politically, but social and economic regional boundaries aren't so neat.

Where does the Pittsburgh region end and the Cleveland one begin? Where is the tipping point for Pittsburgh's sphere of influence and Washington, DC's (see above map)?

Economically, you look at cities and towns in the area that are more tied to Pittsburgh than Cleveland or DC. Socially, you might map the territory of Browns, Steelers, and Redskins/Ravens fans.

Regional boundaries are dynamic, particularly for economic and social regions. Over time, we might see Pittsburgh invade Cleveland territory or DC infringe on traditional Steeler Country. The DC/Baltimore urban hierarchy is currently marching westward, already well into the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

Given the physical geography, Pittsburgh could easily continue stretching to the west itself, creating a mega-region spanning the Midwest all the way to Chicago. But as Briem's Pittsblog post demonstrates, you needn't pursue an interregional relationship with you neighbor.

Given the migrant exchange between Pittsburgh and DC, a place sitting at the interregional "watershed" could prove to be strategic. I think Pittsburgh should encourage DC's westward advance while encouraging growth to the southeast of Allegheny County. Of course, the bike path is a wonderful start, but rail would be even better.

My point is that in some sense there is already a Pittsburgh-DC region, if anyone cares to discover its geography.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Scratch That Itch

This post is dedicated to Amos_thePokerCat. Amos was kind enough to drop a few links on me that strengthen my position on Pittsburgh's migration woes. I'm trying to exhaust my recent obsession with people moving hither and yon. As far as I'm concerned, the issue is settled... until the next comment or new report.

Stop worrying about the people leaving Pittsburgh. According to this study, "out-migration from the Pittsburgh region was lower than nearly all other regions of comparable size." That statement carries considerable shock value, even for me.

Pittsburgh obsesses the recently departed, unjustifiably so. The media coverage is largely to blame. Young people leave home, all around the world. In the United States, moving to improve is what defines us as Americans. As a recent article in The Economist (July 1st-7th issue, "Lexington: Pursuing happiness") points out, 40 million Americans move annually.

Get used to it. We are rootless vagabonds at heart.

My dream is to see Pittsburgh as the center of R&D on labor mobility. You are not going to see a long and sordid tale about the Phoenix diaspora. Pittsburgh could be the model for community overcoming distance.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Migration Wars

Migration and regional transportation are hot-button topics for Pittsburgh. I have a simple view of the transportation issue, because I don't know enough about it. Generally, I support the plans that help people get in and out of Pittsburgh, not around the region. But my vote is still for sale (not that my vote counts).

Concerning migration, I've dug in my heels. Patterns of migration are well understood, rare for the social sciences. This clarity is muddled thanks to the political charge of the issue. Outside of the quantitative modeling, not all migrants are created equal. Keeping Pittsburgh in focus, I offer three key migration points:

1) There is a strong positive correlation between mobility and wealth/education. Cheaper transportation and communication is feeding the current wave of migration, domestic and international. Your ability to pick up and move to a new place can greatly increase your economic options. Labor, particularly the rich and smart, is getting better at chasing capital.

2) Borders and distance still matter. Barriers of entry divert both capital and labor. Both seek the path of least resistance. People are still more likely to migrate nearby rather than faraway, toward the outsider-friendly over the xenophobic.

3) In-migration, not out-migration, should be the numbers of concern. Labor mobility is increasing, playing evermore the opportunist. In America, we are turning into location whores. Plenty of people are leaving Las Vegas, but you don't notice them because of the massive influx. Secondary and tertiary migrations are becoming much more significant.

Pittsburgh, like everywhere else, is going to experience a brain drain. What the region needs is another region to pillage. Let's devise a plan to steal their human capital.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Frontier Cities

I'm turning back to the Newsweek issue on urban growth patterns after reading a post about the David Dollar article on Thomas Barnett's blog. Since Barnett name drops, I figure it is okay for me to do so. I first encountered Dr. Dollar, an economist at the World Bank, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was presenting some research to us graduate students, in an NSF funded program titled Globalization and Democratization (GAD), about the benefits of economic globalization. I came away as impressed as Barnett with Dollar's work.

In Newsweek, Dollar investigates the astounding growth of cities in China. Of interest to this blog is the tendency of cities that were yesterday's "industrial backwaters" to be today's economic powerhouses. As for the established industrial centers, they are not faring as well. The best governmental practices are found in the newer urban areas, where innovation and ideas thrive. Dollar points out that the industry in the older cities "tended to protect what they had and reform less aggressively."

I'm hypothesizing that something similar is occurring in the United States. Cities such as Austin, TX and Charlotte, NC have offered a frontier opportunity akin to the one observed in the boomtowns of China. On the other hand, Pittsburgh stagnates. Governmental reform is key for attracting investment and stimulating growth. This is unlikely to happen in Western Pennsylvania, leaving this region at the rear of economic globalization.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Still Looking South, Towards DC

Since attending the most recent Entrepreneurial Thursday at Dowe's on Ninth, Pittsburgh Quarterly is serving as my muse. I think you can consider that a solid endorsement of the magazine. Mark Desantis quotes Tim Zak in the Spring/Summer issue while discussing Pittsburgh's prospects for redemption, "There is just not enough critical mass of like-minded people."

Zak's assessment resonates with me. I can feel energy in Pittsburgh. The city is alive with ideas. What I don't sense is a coherent, shared vision. Everyone has a plan, endorsing only his own. There is always a better approach or more clever scheme.

I'm in the same boat. Here I am blogging on and on about my perspective on Pittsburgh's problems. I am looking for allies, but I'm not sure where to find them. Pittsburgh needs more than a new direction. The region needs a person who can convince more than herself that this path is the way to go.

I've met a number of young Pittsburghers in their 20s and 30s over the last seven days. One event was a party for someone leaving town, moving to Florida. Few I spoke with that night wanted to stay, looking weighed down and trapped. I think they find life here stifling.

I had a similar experience growing up in the Northeast. I felt limited by circumstances of birth, something my westward migration obliterated. My frontier adventure wasn't filled with true western characters. The people I met were from all over the United States, if not the world. This cauldron of so many different upbringings was inspiring.

This was my idea commons. Social hierarchies were leveled and anything seemed possible. If something akin to this were to blossom in Pittsburgh, it would threaten those currently in power. The latest economic earthquake to the region was not enough to open up opportunity to outsiders. I'm beginning to realize that the requisite shock occurred south of here, in the Mon Valley.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Upscaling Trust

Pittsburgh suffers from acute Balkanization. Trust in government occupies increasingly smaller spaces, where neighboring municipalities are unable to act in concert. Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh, notes how polarized the debate about regionalization has become. To many, consolidating the overwhelming number of governmental entities carving up the region of Pittsburgh is the key to the revitalization of the area. To others, the thought of creating another large and bloated governmental bureaucracy is an anathema.

Whatever debate is gripping Pittsburgh, each side views the other with a great deal of suspicion. The entire region is suffering from a crisis of trust and few efforts are done with a broad base of support. Self-interest rules the political landscape and many innovative ideas are doomed to spin their wheels. As Briem notes, Pittsburgh is stuck in a century-long stalemate.

How do we break the impasse? Briem offers civil discourse as a solution. The trick is creating a forum where this can effectively take place. To date, regional kingmakers and other stakeholder leaders have failed to constructively engage opposing points of view. Pittsburgh is rich in brilliant visions of the future, but none of them align.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Chi-Pitts Megalopolis

The Newsweek International article referenced in the previous post is one of many in an issue about the emerging urban trend of population migrating to second cities. Mr. Creative Class himself, Richard Florida, makes a guest appearance to discuss the new characteristics of the old megalopolis. Florida makes the argument that despite the dramatic growth of second cities, the traditional urban hierarchy is alive and well.

Dr. Florida has a point. Global cities anchor every giant urban corridor. Pittsburgh is the eastern end of a swath of light that stretches through Cleveland and Detroit, all the way to Chicago. I think I once read, or somebody passed along an anecdote, that Pittsburgh imagines itself competing with New York City, but really has much more in common with Chicago. Pittsburgh gazes to the East, but its soul belongs to the Midwest.

US Census data support this understanding of Pittsburgh's universe. If a Pittsburgher leaves home, she or he will most likely land in Chicago. That fact shouldn't surprise me, but it does. For whatever reason, the Pittsburgh-Chicago connection is not overwhelmingly apparent, yet Florida's simple observation is irrefutable. In some sense, a number of Pittsburghers have not left the region, they merely migrated to the other pole of the Chi-Pitts megalopolis.

In the latest Pittsburgh Quarterly, a good-looking magazine if you haven't seen a copy, John G. Craig Jr. reorients the city to the west when considering populations the regional airport might serve. Craig quotes the CEO of Dollar Bank and chair of American West Airlines, Stephen Hansen, who states that we "tend to overlook the large population residing in the 130 miles between Pittsburgh and Cleveland."

If Pittsburgh looks west, it goes all the way to San Diego or Phoenix. And if the locals aren't moving to Ohio in search of exurb living, they are going all the way to Florida for sun, fun and jobs. What second cities are booming in the urban corridor between Chicago and Pittsburgh?

When Dr. Florida corrects advocates of decentralization geography by saying that second cities do not emerge in the "middle of nowhere", he conveniently overlooks Las Vegas. Granted Vegas is tied to Los Angeles in a number of ways, but you could say similar things about Salt Lake City and other sites of "extreme commuting".

Pittsburgh's region is not as conveniently contiguous as Dr. Florida suggests. Like many other Pittsburghers, Dr. Florida left the area and moved to Washington, DC. If there is a connection-worthy region relatively nearby, it is DC. The exurbs of DC and Baltimore stretch westward, even over a mountain range, coming ever so close to the southern reaches of the Pittsburgh region.

I'm not suggesting that Pittsburgh blast a highway directly to the outer rings of the Beltway, but to build a different kind of infrastructure that connects the many talented Pittsburghers living in and around DC with their home. Rising gas prices may curtail the trend of extreme commuting, but skyrocketing real estate prices have proven to be a strong push factor, driving much of the second city boom.

Imagine a community roughly halfway between Pittsburgh and DC. The worker telecommutes on most days to a job closer to the nation's capital. She can easily make her way into town if the need for a face-to-face meeting arises. On weekends she heads to Pittsburgh to see friends and family. The cheaper mortgage allows her to afford a second residence in her hometown and the city comes alive with expatriates.

Counterintuitively, I'm suggesting that Pittsburgh encourage this pattern and intensify linkages with DC. Satellite offices will start popping up in the Golden Triangle and some businesses will even completely relocate if the opportunities are better than what they can find in the DC region. Pittsburgh should reach southward with development, not west.

Second City Success

Thanks to tannybrown for bringing this article to my attention. Cities in the second tier of the urban hierarchy are leading the way in growth, while major cities such as New York are witnessing a leveling off of population. Might that bode well for Pittsburgh?

The short, and obvious, answer is "no". I hypothesize that one of the factors that promotes rapid growth is a relatively undeveloped political landscape. Cities will tend to boom in regions that offer little opposition to development. I imagine something akin to a wild west or other frontier environment.

I think that just about anyone would tell you that Pittsburgh offers the exact opposite of the anarchic situation I describe. Pittsburgh is an intimidating place to an outsider. There is little chance of cracking the well-established power structure. The path of least resistance is a city in the Sun Belt, which is where most of the people are going.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Adventures in Pittsburgh

I'm on a two-week reconnaissance mission in Pittsburgh. Getting here was a bit of an ordeal thanks to my goal to keep this business/research trip as inexpensive as possible. I cashed in some frequent flyer miles for a free trip on Frontier Airlines, but the closest airport in Frontier's network is Akron/Canton airport.

I didn't think that would be a problem, securing a Greyhound Bus ticket from Akron to downtown Pittsburgh. However, getting to bus station in Akron from the airport proved to be difficult and expensive. Public transportation doesn't run to the airport on weekends, at least from Akron.

How does someone of limited means travel in this region? I gather that if you use the airport, you should have enough money to navigate the secondary legs of your journey. $40 plus tip got me the bus station via a cab. That was more than half of the price of a roundtrip bus ticket between Akron and Pittsburgh.

I was still way under the price of a rental car so far, but intraregional travel is often more expensive than interregional travel. Am I making an argument for intraregional infrastructure? I do believe I am. Airports, CBDs, IT corridors, and universities tend to form the hub of any region's globalization link. How well the rest of the region is connected to that hub will define the extent that area is linked to global processes.

Akron-Canton is a great secondary airport for the Pittsburgh region. I realize that Cleveland is the selling point, but Pittsburgh would be wise to establish some formal links to this airport, and I don't mean a puddle jumper to Pittsburgh International. There is a different tier of business traveler that Pittsburgh could target.

Despite the steep price, I enjoyed my cab ride. If you want to know the secrets of any area, engage your cabbie. My driver told me that he doesn't see many riders who are there for business, let alone going to Pittsburgh. His bread and butter is shuttling pilots.

He could smell an opportunity and asked me to keep him in mind if I needed someone to build webpages. I thought to myself that he would be better off starting a business shuttling people to Pittsburgh from CAK.

I'll fast forward to my arrival in Pittsburgh. The location of the new Greyhound Bus station is a major disappointment. If Pittsburgh would like to attract Latino immigrants, they need to do a better job of promoting the cheaper forms of interregional transportation.

Pittsburgh is a horrible city to navigate for a first-time visitor and the relocation of the bus station was a step in the wrong direction. A local friend offered to pick me up. She had never been to the Greyhound station. Even though she knew where it is located, she struggled to figure out how to get there.

The message was loud and clear: we hope you are just passing through to somewhere else.